The best way to get to know a city is to spend a day biking through it. As Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “it is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” So ditch the gas-guzzlers and cue up the pedals for a self-guided biking tour of Grand Rapids that traverses the West Side to Uptown and back again.
As well as bringing an appetite and a leisurely pace, don’t forget to brush up on your bike safety at grdrivingchange.org. Featuring interactive quizzes, videos, and lists of rules for both cyclists and drivers, GR Driving Change helps keep cyclists safe and drivers accountable.
John Ball Zoo is home to 2,000+ animals and exciting adventure rides plus a gift store and dining options.
Photo by Brian Craig for Experience Grand Rapids
Start your ride at John Ball Zoo and the adjacent John Ball Zoo Park. With over 2,000 animals to see in a combination of indoor and outdoor exhibits, the zoo has more animal-touching exhibits than any museum in Michigan, creating a hands-on learning opportunity for kids and adults alike. The park is abundant with picnic tables, shade trees, and grassy areas perfect for picnicking and playing.
Bike from John Ball Zoo to Bridge Street Market and New Holland Knickerbocker
(1.6 miles, about 10 minutes)
The ever-developing West Side is quickly becoming home to some of the best restaurants in Grand Rapids – and most of them seem to be popping up on Bridge Street. A dynamic mix of restaurants, breweries, storefronts, and dive bars bring together old Grand Rapids style with some newcomer’s flare. Check out Bridge Street Market, an innovative neighborhood grocery store format from local industry titan Meijer. Butcher’s Union offers a mouth-watering dedication to high-quality meat and whiskey. New Holland Brewing Company’s expansive Knickerbocker is always hopping on the weekend. The brewery is home to classic pub fare and a rotating selection of craft beers.
The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is one of six museums you can explore on your downtown stop.
Photo by Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum
Bike from Bridge Street Market and New Holland Knickerbocker to Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum
(0.4 miles, about 4 minutes)
From Bridge Street, head downtown to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. The museum dedicated to the 38th president of the United States is replete with interactive exhibits celebrating American history. Visitors can pay their respects on the grounds, as this is the final resting place of President Ford and Mrs. Betty Ford.
Bike from Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum to Rosa Parks Circle
(0.4 Miles, about 4 minutes)
Rosa Parks Circle often feels like the unofficial hub of downtown Grand Rapids. From food trucks and concerts in the summer to ice skating in the winter, the park provides a gathering place for people from all walks of life. Both locals and visitors alike agree that this has become the unofficial heart of downtown Grand Rapids, as it was recently named one of five Great Public Spaces in America by the American Planning Association. Whether it’s a temporary oasis in a bustling downtown or simply a favorite lunch break location, there’s always something to see and someone to talk to. So rest your legs and stay a while.
Once you’ve caught your second wind, check out the Grand Rapids Art Museum adjacent to Rosa Parks Circle. Stroll through the permanent and rotating exhibits – general admission is free on Tuesdays and Thursday nights, but it’s worth the small regular price to wander the halls of some spectacularly curated art.
Bike from Rosa Parks Circle to Fulton Street Farmers Market
(2.2 miles, about 15 minutes)
The Fulton Street Farmer’s Market offers just-picked produce from dozens of local family farmers.
Photo by Paul Jendrasiak for Experience Grand Rapids
Now that your legs have had a little rest, head uptown to the Fulton Street Farmers Market. The market is open Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 8AM to 2PM the first Saturday in May through the last Saturday of October and from 10AM to 1PM every Saturday from November through April. Over 200 vendors and artisans display rows of local produce, baked goods, and fresh flowers, tempting the nose and the stomach. If it happens to be any other day of the week, check out Madcap Coffee’s Fulton Street location. Indulge in plentiful outdoor seating, wonderful roasts, and all sorts of specialty coffee concoctions.
Bike from Fulton Street Farmers Market to Sticky Fingers
(0.8 miles, about 6 minutes)
Get some fuel for the next leg of your journey in Eastown, a neighborhood retail-and-restaurant district. Sticky Fingers is filled to the brim with new and nostalgic candy from well-known and unusual brands. Make your selections and spend some time in Rebel, a modern gift shop, and Commune, a hip home goods store, before the sugar rush kicks in.
Bike From Sticky Fingers to Donkey Taquería
(1 mile, about 8 minutes)
Stop in for some refreshment at Donkey Taquería, a place that is as well known for its margaritas as its tacos. Offering creative Mexican cuisine and (arguably) the city’s best guacamole, it’s a can’t-miss stop on the city tour. Don't be thrown off by the lack of the sign. If they advertised it, there would be no seats at all.
The Grand Rapids Downtown Market has plenty of bike racks to secure your ride while you browse the Market Hall.
Photo by Grand Rapids Downtown Market
Bike from Donkey Taquería to Downtown Market Grand Rapids
(1.1 miles, about 8 minutes)
Downtown Market Grand Rapids
Modeled after open-air style European markets, the Grand Rapids Downtown Market brings 20+ gourmet restaurants and vendors under one roof. Try Café de Miro for Kurdish-style Mediterranean delights or Slows Bar B Q for barbecue by the pound. Field & Fire Bakery has fresh loaves and addicting samples, while the Sushi Market rolls out unbeatable lunch specials from noon until 3PM every day.
The second floor boasts extra seating options and a year-round greenhouse that can help chase away gray winter blues.
Finish your scenic tour through the city at John Ball Zoo.
Photo by Experience Grand Rapids
Bike from Grand Rapids Downtown Market to John Ball Zoo
(2.2 miles, about 14 minutes)
Finish at John Ball Zoo to complete the loop and pat yourself on the back for, as Hemingway would say, truly learning the contours and character of the city. And if this whets your appetite for more Grand Rapids area cycling, check out the biking page for the insider’s guide to the best cycling the city has to offer.
Total mileage: 9.7 miles
Total bike time: approximately 1 hour and 9 minutes